The Stages of Learning – Unconsciously Competent (Quadrant 4)

Driving, for instance, is a skill you have practised so much that it has unconsciously become ‘second nature’ to you. Other such examples include  typing, knitting while reading a book, or driving and listening to music and following GPS directions at the same time. Although after some time of being Unconsciously Competent, you might actually have difficulty in explaining exactly how you did it – the skill has become largely instinctual and you have forgotten the theory because you no longer need it.

I don’t know what I know! 

The adverse effects of this stage can be ‘complacency;’ i.e, when the person continues to practice the skill, second nature, over time, allows bad habits to form. For example, an exemplary driver could make a silly mistake, or a trainer, believing him or herself to be an expert, fails to prepare adequately for a training session and drops a clangour. Complacency can also cause problems if the person doesn’t keep up-to-date with the skill. As techniques and approaches move forward, the person remains behind using set methods which have perhaps become stale, outdated or less relevant to today. In each case above the person must reassess personal competence (perhaps against a new standard) and step back to the conscious competence stage until mastery is attained once again. Complacency provides a useful warning to those who think they have reached the limit of mastery, but it can also encourage people to search for continuous improvement.” (John Addy, Aug 2004)


Where do you go from here? Would you let the growth achieved from your ‘Conscious Competence’ become stagnant? How will you keep a check on your complacency that sets in by doing the same things over and over again? Will you again slip into the first stage of ‘Unconscious Incompetence’?

All these questions arguably give rise to the need for long-standing ‘Unconscious Competence’ to be checked periodically against new standards.

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